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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Designing Mammootty House Chennai

One fine morning, I received a call from Shyamaprasad, the director of the film Agnisakshi. He said, “Mammootty will call you in five minutes. He wants to build a house.” I designed the residence of Shyam two to three years ago. I was living in Trivandrum those days. Mammootty called me after 5 minutes and told me about his house in Chennai. He asked me to come to Chennai the next day. Mammootty had heard about my work from Renjith (scriptwriter and film director). Renjith had seen the work I had done for Shyamaprasad and told about me to Mammootty. At that time, the shooting of the film ‘Johnnie Walker’ was going on. Renjith was the scriptwriter.


I took the flight the next day. Renjith received me at the airport, and we went to the sets of Johnnie Walker. I kept quiet as this was the first time I was doing the residence of a star. The shooting was going on, and Mammootty talked to me in between the shots. I was not talking much because I did not know how he would react? I told him only one thing, “let me see the site”. After lunch, we went and saw the site. Mammootty had told that he had bought two plots together- one behind the other, so the plot was very narrow, and that he was thinking about the house all the time. This is the brief of what Mammootty had told me, “I want a house to be built with natural materials. I do not want much concrete.


Mammootty House in Chennai
Exterior View of Mammootty House in Chennai

I do not want large sheets of glass. I do not want the marble to be used. Think about an unconventional house. I do not want an expensive house. People should say that Mammootty had built a beautiful house. People should not say that Mammootty had spent a lot of money, but the house is not livable. I want to relax in the house. The house is very private to me. I will not bring many people to my house.” I started asking a few questions and Mammootty said Sulu, his wife, also had a lot of ideas. In fact, she had more ideas than him. We went to the house to discuss. He finished the shooting, and by the time we reached Mammootty’s house, it might have been around 10.30 in the night.


We had food and began discussing the house. I asked him about the requirements of the house. He said, “I want only four bedrooms – one master bedroom, one for the son, one for the daughter and one for my parents who come and stay with me. I have a lot of electronic equipment, including a large projection theatre, so the house should be able to accommodate these facilities. I want a Kerala style house because I like the simplicity of those houses. I want to use natural materials, and there should not be any falsework. I want to have a courtyard inside, but since the plot is narrow, I am not sure how far is it possible.”


Design Concept


The plot was facing south. In Kerala, we do not generally orient the front door to the south, thus it is facing east in this house. We created a foyer where people can be separated into two areas: the workplace and the living room. Full height windows were given on either side of the front door. Even though the front door is open, no person will be able to see the inside of the house. Also, a person answering the door must see who is at the door before opening it. If friends are visiting, they seek a chance to shout out and wave in anticipation. The transition from the street to the house was brought out by:

  • Having an entrance gate in the traditional Kerala style


Mammootty House Chennai
The Traditional Kerala Style Gate
  • Changing the texture of the driveway

  • A mango tree was planted by the side of the pathway to intensify the beauty of the transition from outside to inside.


Mammootty House Chennai
A View of the Driveway and Mango Tree Saplings Planted on Either Side of It

The building was quite spread out. The shape of the building increases the separation between spaces inside the building and therefore increases the relative privacy that people are able to get within a given area. The master bed and the children’s bed were given at two opposite ends of the house; with the family room in between to give more privacy. A narrow stair was given from the office to the first floor home theatre room. The idea was that if other producers and directors had to be taken to view any of the films on the large screen, it should not affect the privacy of the other members. This was made steeper and inconvenient because this should not become the regular staircase. The main stair was made more comfortable.


Mammootty House
External Staircase That Can Be Used by Guests

We discussed the living room. They told me that they wanted to change the existing sofas. I explained to them that the size of the space was determined by the sort of sofas they choose. Also, the sofas will determine, how much time a person will sit in the living room. We decided that the living room should be formal and used only when the visitors come. The front sit-out was given an odd shape to provide more privacy to the planter's chairs placed there. Mammootty always sat here and discussed with his friends and film people. He rarely used the office room and the living room.


Mammootty House
A View of the Front Sit-out

Many people gather to visit Mammootty when he arrived in the city. There will be people coming to meet him. So I wanted to give more privacy to the other family members. Also, we thought that the front garden would be more useful as a formal garden, more for seeing and not for other uses. This acted as a transition space between the house and the street. We made a side garden to the house, with a swing etc., (part of the antique collection of Sulu Chechy). The side garden will be used by the family members and there was a large sit out given on that side both on the ground floor and the first floor. This garden was not completely isolated and has a connection with the front portion.


Mammootty house
Front Verandah. Image by V Vinoth.

The verandahs make the garden more meaningful. Two or three people can sit in a small group with space to stretch their legs and room for a small table, where they can sit down with glasses, cups and newspaper. These were the areas that were halfway between artificially constructed structures and the earth's natural state. For this connection to be felt, the materials used must be midway between the building and the earth. So soft terracotta tiles were the most appropriate. Except for the bedrooms and the office room, all the other rooms were designed very much open and connected via large doors. They have no effect on the normal flow of socialising or the natural movement from one social encounter to the next.


There was a provision for dining in the kitchen. In the initial plan, this was not there. Sulu Chechi’s idea was that the kitchen should face the garden since she might spend more time in the kitchen. Also, when we made the kitchen close to the side garden, the dining became a little bit far off. Therefore, it was decided to have dining facilities in the kitchen itself. The work area was readjusted to make it self sufficient for cooking. The kitchen was placed to face east which lets in the morning sun. The kitchen was more closely connected with the family, meant for Sulu Chechi than the servant. A breakfast table and bed were also provided there. Combining the kitchen and dining together will definitely improve the communication between the husband and wife. I saw Mammootty lying down in the kitchen bed, and we had discussed various things in the kitchen.


Materials


We decided to do exposed brickwork. Mammootty used to remark jokingly to others, “I am doing a low-cost house, but I have told them to spend any amount of money.” The flooring was that of traditional Kerala tharayodu except in the front verandahs. The doors were made of teak, much of it is old teak (taken from a building which was demolished), the wardrobes and shelves were made of Mahogany. No special treatment was made for the elevations, and we used bay windows in some of the rooms.


Mammootty House Chennai
Natural Materials and Low-cost Construction Techniques Have Been Used
Brick Column
Brick Column

During Construction


There were not many detailed drawings made as it would have been difficult to make detailed drawings since so many details were used in the building. There was no demolition or rebuilding of any part of the building Mammootty used to come even three times a day to the building site. He came to the site even if it was late. He saw the building at every stage and approved the designs. The carpenters, masons and painters were from Kerala. They used to cook at the site. He asked the workers to make black coffee and spent a lot of time with them. Once I asked him, “Everybody tells that you have a head weight, etc.” His reaction was, “Have I shown it to any one of you. Cinema field is like that”.


Mammootty House Chennai
Mammootty House Chennai
Few Details From the House

Another thing I noticed in Mammootty and his wife was that both of them took a keen interest in the design and construction of the house. They never took an attitude that you build the house and we will come here to stay in the house. They took an active interest in every decision-making process. They never listened to anybody and did not change their decisions frequently. But, in the case of the front door, the final decision was that of Mammootty’s. “I want double shutters, it should have a mani chitrthazhu” was his expectation.


Mammootty House
Images Taken During the Construction of the House

But later on, he suggested, "Let us acquire two old anjili planks, it will look similar to rosewood because it is old, and a sutrapattika as in the traditional Kerala door shutters. That is enough" after I designed several designs that he didn't like. Mammootty’s manager Mr Babu used to arrange the materials, and the labour was paid on daily wages. There was no contractor also involved in the construction. There were no big team of engineers and Ravindran Pillai, one of the head masons, supervised the civil works. While the carpentry and painting works were supervised by Koyah. The interior design was done by Asokettan of Calicut and we discussed the details.


Mammootty and Chechi did not want any staining of the timbers as they wanted the natural colours. Also, they were dead against using plywood for the wardrobes, when finally, it was used only for the internal partitions. The shutters were all made with Mahogany. Sulu Chechi chose the furniture, and she already had a lot of vintage furniture that was integrated into the new design. So many pieces were collected during the construction also. Chechi bought new furniture only if it was useful in some part of the house, and moreover, the house was made into a home with her collections. The finer interior details, colours, selection of curtains, bathroom designs, etc., were done by Chechi.


Mammootty House
Images Taken During the Construction of the House

After Construction


Mammootty liked the house very much. In fact, he had told me that he felt like spending more time in the house and that he would like to sit and spend time in different areas of the house. He likes taking people around the house when he was free. When I shifted my practice to Chennai after a few years, I had shown his house to many of my clients too.


Mammootty House Chennai
Mammootty House Chennai
Views of Mammootty House in Chennai After Completion

After the house was finished, Mammootty invited my family and me to Chennai. At that time, we were staying in Kottayam. We came to Chennai one day evening. I had booked a room in a hotel. But Mammootty told me, “I would like you to stay in my house, if you feel inconvenient or uncomfortable staying here, you can stay in the hotel.”

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